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General News Bert Rosenthal

Clark family a big part of US national championships

Clark family a big part of US national championships
Bert Rosenthal - AP Track Writer
Atlanta (AP) _ As the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships began Friday in the Georgia Dome, members of the Clark family were in evidence everywhere. There was Joetta Clark, competing in the meet for the 19th time and seeking her fifth title in the women's 800 meters. There was her sister-in-law, Jearl Miles-Clark, chasing her third women's 400 title. And there was the specter of J.J. Clark, the brother of Joetta, the wife of Jearl _ and the coach of both women. ``This group is the first family of track and field,'' USATF executive director Craig Masback said, noting that there is another Clark sister who is a runner: Hazel. Hazel is missing the meet because she is competing in the 800 and relays for Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championships at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this weekend. J.J. also is absent because he is an assistant at Florida and has to attend the SEC meet. The others were expected to represent the family well.
Joetta, 35, is the two-time defending champion in the 800: she also won in 1989 and 1990. Jearl, 31, has won two of the last three 400s. And J.J., a former miler and 1,500-meter runner, has them both in top shape.
J.J. has to treat each of his pupils differently, because of their varying personalities. ``With Joetta, you have to stay away ... give her some space,'' he said. ``Jearl likes to be around friends, like Natasha Kaiser-Brown (another 400 runner), to `high five' and embrace them. Hazel needs you for a little while, then she doesn't want to talk to you. She's a runner of few words.''
Joetta, J.J. and Hazel are all children of Joe Clark, the controversial, bat-wielding principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, whose strong-willed, disciplinarian tactics were featured in the movie ``Lean on Me,'' starring Morgan Freeman. Joetta and Hazel admit their running styles emulate their father's personality. ``Dad taught us to do the best we can in anything we attempted and to always be prepared,'' Joetta said. ``That upbringing enabled us to be successful as athletes and people. ``He taught me to set goals and be able to achieve them. Sometimes, I'm so organized and disciplined that I drive other people crazy. My brother has to slow me down.''
Hazel said, ``My dad has changed a lot over the years, but I still have that discipline ingrained in me.'' J.J. also has followed his father's teachings. ``With my father being such a disciplinarian, everything is very positive,'' he said. ``I have a very organized lifestyle, and that allows me to keep this group disciplined.'' But not always together. While Jearl and Hazel have been training in Gainesville, Florida, this winter, Joetta's many business ventures have kept her in Somerset, New Jersey. She is one of nine commissioners of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and owns her own business, Joetta Sports and Beyond, a management consulting firm. Joetta, who has been competing as an elite runner since 1978, attributes her remarkable running longevity to a desire to excel as a runner. ``But at this point in my career, I look at everything as a state of emergency,'' the three-time Olympian said. ``My goals are to get the American record indoors and outdoors, to leave that legacy for the younger generation. That's the galvanizing force that keeps me going.''
Ironically, Jearl, who has dabbled in the 800 in the past couple of years - at Joetta's insistence - holds the U.S. outdoor record. Joetta, Jearl and Hazel insist that when all three are in the same 800 race, family ties are forgotten. ``We race as hard as we can,'' Joetta said. ``We encourage each other. I never say I can beat Jearl in the 800, because we have too much respect for each other.'' ``They're something special, really special,'' Masback said about the entire Clark family. Friday's meet program included finals in the men's triple jump, women's pole vault and pentathlon, and men's and women's distance medley relay, plus trials in the men's and women's 200, 400 and 800. The remaining 29 finals will be Saturday.