When an email popped up from Wrestling Canada on Don Clark’s computer screen on a Friday morning in May, he wasn’t quite sure what it entailed.
“I thought they were maybe asking me to do some additional assignments,” said Clark.
Instead, it was a congratulatory message, awarding him the Wrestling Canada Lutte Outstanding Contribution Award for his lifelong contribution to the sport of wrestling at the provincial, national and international levels.
“I’m very, very appreciative,” said Clark. “It was sort of a wrap up to a very pleasant career involved with Sask Sport and the Coaching Association of Canada.”
“It’s very satisfying that all the work that you did was recognized by other people.”
When Clark says ‘All that work,’ he’s not exaggerating. Included on his resume are four degrees from two different universities, experience in coaching and administrative rolls at the FISU Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and Olympic Games, as well as the Jeux de Canada Games and North American Indigenous Games.
Clark’s decorated career got its kickstart while he was a student-athlete at the University of Saskatchewan with the Huskies football team.
He made the move to Saskatoon after growing up on a farm outside of Kipling, Sask. While his parents were involved in farming and cattle ranching, they always supported him and his siblings in their sporting pursuits. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be involved in sport — this was always the goal.
As a means of football off-season training, Clark was recommended by the Huskies coaching staff to join the school’s wrestling team. That initial introduction cultivated not only an eventual conference champion, but a lifelong builder within the sport.
After university, Clark received a tenure position at the University of Regina in 1970. He went on to immediately get involved in coaching, as he took the reins of the Cougars wrestling team two years later; a position he held until 1985. In the years following, Clark transitioned into a multitude of various positions within sport, both coaching and administrative, but his greatest impact was in the sport of wrestling.
He was Team Saskatchewan’s wrestling coach at the 1967 Canada Winter Games and four years later, the team’s manager. Clark held that position at three international events in the 1977 and 1991 FISU Games, as well as the 1978 Commonwealth Games. He also served as a training camp coach for Team Canada for the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.
For more than 50 years, Clark has been a part of the province’s wrestling community — prominence that has taken him all over the world, including stops in Singapore, Qatar, Bahrain and England.
“It was exciting and educational because you met people from all over the world,” said Clark. “It was a great opportunity to become familiar with countries and organizations which I have not thought I would probably ever be involved with when I was a professor.”
Among the many doors wrestling opened, were trips to five different Olympic Games, including a role as the Canadian wrestling team leader at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. In 2010, Clark was the managing director of the Saskatchewan Pavilion at the Vancouver Winter Games.
“We had a lot of support from Sask Sport and the Ministry —— I’m a little bit biased, but we had one of the best pavilions. We had huge crowds all the time. It just became a real centre of attraction for many people to come to the Saskatchewan pavilion,” said Clark. “It was an excellent opportunity for Saskatchewan to show off a little bit.”
And while sport took him all over the world, Clark is a Saskatchewan guy through and through. With the exception of the time he spent in Edmonton while earning two degrees at the University of Alberta, the province has been his home for his entire life. The president of the Saskatchewan Amateur Wrestling Association (SAWA) when Sask Sport was founded in 1972, Clark’s connection to the province’s sports scene runs deep — something he holds close to his heart.
“I really appreciate the support that I got from the Saskatchewan community, Sask Sport and the people in education here,” said Clark. “It was sort of a natural progression for me to come back here, get involved with the sport administration and teaching.”
That connection is a part of the reason Clark was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, etching his name into the province’s sporting history.
“If you think about or talk about Don’s contributions to sport here in Saskatchewan, he’s had a major impact on coaches and the sports system,” said David Robertson, the executive director of the Coaches Association of Saskatchewan.
“I personally have had a lot of benefit from working with Don over the years in my own coaching career and he’s impacted so many thousand’s of coaches across Saskatchewan and also across Canada with his work with Wrestling Canada.”
Two of Clark’s sayings are ‘You can’t do it by yourself.’ and ‘You make people responsible by giving them responsibility.’ Those lines are words of wisdom he’d pass along to young administrators in sport.
For much of Clark’s career in sport, he was a volunteer. He was honoured with Sask Sport’s volunteer recognition award in 1983 and he received the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association’s Maple Leaf Award in 1997 for 25 years as a volunteer at the national level. He believes that the contributions of volunteers mean “everything” to amateur sport in the province.
“If you don’t have volunteers, then amateur sport is going to fail. You need people who are willing to make some time commitments to the organization or to the event,” said Clark.
It’s because of Clark’s own time commitments to amateur sport over the last five decades that he is such a deserving recipient of Wrestling Canada Lutte’s Outstanding Contribution Award.