This race goes to Montville's Clark in battle of elite ECC athletes

New London — The rhythms of an indoor track meet — part fire drill, part carnival, part Times Square — rarely offer the opportunity for focus. Someone is always moving, throwing, running, jumping, yelling or rooting. Sort of like imagining how the whole world would act if we were all late for the local 7:37 train to the city.

Not much new to report Saturday at Coast Guard Academy, site of the Eastern Connecticut Conference indoor championships. That's until the final turn of the 300. And then, as if God hit the cosmic pause button, the whole place took notice, calmness commandeering chaos.

Greg Clark and Cam Whalen. Cam Whalen and Greg Clark. Both with prolific athletic portfolios, great hair and looks of determination inspired by the unspoken agony of constant effort.

Clark: The kid from Montville who has run the fastest 300 time in the state this year: 35.25 seconds.

Whalen: The kid from Stonington who was named The Day's Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year last spring and our Boys' Soccer Player of the Year a few months ago.

Clark, who won by an eyelash, was still huffing and puffing several minutes later. The kid who spent his childhood digging graves had finally summoned the chutzpah to bury an old nemesis.

"Cam beat me last year," Clark was saying. "He's just so athletic, so good in everything. Last year, I think he came from hurdles and went right to the 300. I was like, 'Who is this guy?'"

Now they're asking as much about Clark, who has qualified nationally in the 300. Quite the story to tell. It begins here: Greg Clark grew up as many youngins do. Helping in the family business. It's just that the Clarks run Comstock Cemetery in Uncasville.

"Since I grew up around it, I'm not that affected by it. I've always been around the cemetery. It's where I learned to ride my bike," Clark said. "I fell in a hole one time my dad was digging, so I know some pain from there. It's a job, I guess. A normal job."

Maybe to him. But to us? There's something fascinating about cemeteries. All that digging. Which, you can imagine, is a legitimate day's work. So maybe Clark never huffed and puffed with a shovel the way he did at the end of Saturday's race. But still, "grave digger" isn't yet a major on most college campuses.

"It's a lot of moving dirt and big rocks. It's New England," Clark said. "It does help get your strength up. I guess in that way it helped me. I just wanted to help my family. In track, I want to help my team. Except that a lot more people know my name now for some reason. The hallways in school or another school, I'll hear 'Hey Greg!' And I'm thinking that I have no idea who they are."

It's that way a lot with athletes in high schools. They are de facto celebrities. Greg Clark, who is tall (and have we mentioned has great hair?) commands attention. Just as he did in the fall when he caught the game winning touchdown pass in overtime on Senior Night against Waterford.

"That feeling was better than this one (winning Saturday's race) because I've experienced this a lot," Clark said. "It still feels great, don't get me wrong. But the winning touchdown in Waterford game was surreal. Like nothing you can imagine."

Clark's days at Montville High are on the back nine. He applied to Coast Guard and is on a wait list for prep school.

Oh come now, Coast Guard. This is the kid you want defending the country. Big, strong, respectful and diligent.

"He's just so ... coachable," his coach at Montville, Bridget Buckley, said Saturday. Buckley proved in brevity, there is poetry. All a coach ever wants is coachable kids. No pretense, no baloney. Just earnestness.

"If I don't get in to Coast Guard, I'll probably go to UNH (New Haven) for track or ROTC," Clark said. "Coast Guard appeals to me because I want to serve my country. That's always been a part of who I am. I've wanted to serve my country ever since I was a kid.

"I don't really like things being given to me. I want to earn them. And free school always helps the decision."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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