Sports

His influence continues to be felt in the community

 

Since the Central Coast Section began handing out team titles in boys tennis beginning in 1972, three schools have dominated the decades since then. Gunn controlled the 1970s while winning seven crowns and Menlo School won six in the 2000s and six more since 2010.

The 1990s, however, belonged to Palo Alto and its coach, Keith Clark. The Vikings won six straight section crowns under Clark, from 1991-96. During that stretch, Paly won a remarkable 86 straight dual matches. That ranks second to Gunn's 200 straight in CCS history for boys tennis.

"Keith was one of the all-time great high school coaches," said Dick Gould, the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis at Stanford who guided the Cardinal men to 17 NCAA team crowns. "How lucky we were in this immediate area to have the simultaneous 'rivalry' of Ernie Leydecker's (and fellow coach Bob Bow's) great Gunn teams and Keith's outstanding Paly teams!

"Keith always did things the 'right way', and kept competition in perfect perspective for his young charges. Not everyone in the athletic world knew of his great interest in children's folk music and that he was a noted composer and guitarist. We have lost an unbelievable role model and simply -- a great person."

Clark passed away on Oct. 2 at the age of 94. While he coached tennis at Cubberley High and was a noted folksinger and composer, he left his mark on tennis at Palo Alto High where he compiled a 301-73 won-loss record during his 33 years at the school.

Among his many accolades, Clark was named California and Western States Tennis Coach of the Year and was inducted into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame.

"Keith was one of the most successful and beloved high school tennis coaches in Northern California," said Gould. "While teaching at Palo Alto High School, his men's and women's teams were consistently near the top of the heap."

One of Clark's best players was Doug Bohaboy, who became the school's first CCS individual champion in 1995 while helping the Vikings win the fifth of their six straight team crowns.

"He was a huge influence in my life, starting at the age of 8," said Bohaboy, who lives in New York City and just turned 40. He is married and a father of two daughters. "My mom used to take me to the neighborhood Jordan Middle School to hit balls occasionally. Keith often taught other children at the courts and he took notice of me and introduced himself. He was my first tennis coach.

"Aside from providing me with fundamentals of the game (I still remember those first drills), I would say the biggest influence he had was teaching me to love the game. That started me of on a course that has provided so many memories, relationship and opportunities to this day through the game."

When Bohaboy reached middle school, Clark suggested that Bohaboy seek out other personal coaches.

"But, our relationship remained very close," said Bohaboy. "In fact, he even taught me to play banjo. That didn't go nearly as a well as the tennis."

Bohaboy later attended Northwestern University, where he played tennis before playing five years on the pro circuit and earning a singles ranking of No. 250 in the world. His real impact, however, was at Paly under Clark's tutelage.

"Keith absolutely factored in the team and individual success my senior year," Bohaboy said. "Winning the team CCS title my senior year was certainly the most satisfying of my time on the team. My first three years at Paly the team was so dominant, it (winning) was almost too easy. By my senior year, we had more competition. We actually lost a team match, which had never happened in my first three years (ending's Paly's 86-match win streak) and to come through in the finals was an awesome team effort. Keith's leadership in keeping the team focused and inspired was a major contributing factor to our success. My personal achievement that year was an entire journey, which really started with Keith on the courts at Jordan."

Bohaboy noted that Clark also influenced a number of excellent junior and, eventually, collegiate players during 1980s and '90s in Palo Alto.

"Although he didn't individually coach all the players," Bohaboy said, "he helped to create a unique tennis environment in Palo Alto at the time where a group of players came up, practiced hard and enjoyed the game together. Fostering that certainly kept people in the game at a young age, eventually all on the same Paly teams that were so great."

After winning his sixth straight CCS title with the boys, Clark stepped down from that job and concentrated on the Paly girls tennis team before he officially retired in 1997 on his 75th birthday.

He racked up more than 1,000 victories in tennis, football, basketball, cross country and track during a 52-year coaching career that began in Ottawa, Ill.

Clark is survived by his wife of 74 years, Harriet; four sons -- Keith, Christopher, Robin and Jonathan -- four grandchildren, and one great-grandson. He also leaves behind a legacy unmatched in the 118-year history of Palo Alto High.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 10 at Palo Alto's First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Road, at 1 p.m. Memorials are preferred to Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Gustafson Banks
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2016 at 11:57 pm

I was a student in Ottawa Township High School in Ottawa, IL and had Mr. Clark as my Junior English teacher. I knew that there was something special about him, but was too young to identify it. He was a consummate music performer, frequently singing songs that he had written about the Native people who had inhabited the land before we came along. He never preached, but he was frequently opening up doors to his students that we might walk through. I never noticed that he must have influenced me way beyond my comprehension as following college I went to Lebanon to tech English and later to Paris to work with the American Friends Service Committee.

I knew that I liked him a great deal, but had no idea how subtle his influence was in constructing my progressive values.


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