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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 22, 2018 4 years ago

Sarasota Christian sophomore owns the diamond

The softball player makes everything look easy as Pie.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

It’s always strawberry.

That’s something McKenzie Clark is adamant about. She’s tried a chocolate variation, and sure, it was fine, but it wasn’t strawberry, and it wasn’t from Yoder’s Amish Village, so it was wrong.

She’s talking, of course, about pie. Clark loved, and loves, pie, though she doesn’t eat it as much as she used to, which was before every single Sarasota Christian softball game. She loved pie so much, she screamed it once during a team huddle. “Pie” became her nickname from that moment forward, and remains so. Teammate Gracie Mullett’s mom, Judy, still gives Clark a whole strawberry pie on her birthday.

“I was in love with whipped cream, I guess,” Clark said with a shrug, on how the tradition got started.

McKenzie "Pie" Clark rips a pitch down the left-field line. Courtesy photo.

If Clark’s play is any indication, more athletes should try her favorite treat, because it seems to be working. On Feb. 19, Clark committed to Clemson over offers from other big-name schools such as University of Florida and University of Central Florida. Her decision was made in part because of who Clark is: A leader, not a follower. Clemson announced the creation of its softball program in March 2017, with plans for its first competitive game in 2020. Clark’s first collegiate season will be the program’s second, giving her a chance to pioneer the Tigers into something great. Her Tampa Mustangs-TJ travel team coach, TJ Goelz, is confident she’ll find success.

“Running, throwing and hitting,” Goelz said. “She is dripping athleticism, and it shows in everything she does. She can play a ton of different positions, and she plays the game hard. She loves to compete in big games. She doesn’t shy away from the spotlight.”

Talking to Clark is like talking to a sentient firework. Her passion for the game is made clear within seconds, especially as she discusses her Blazers teammates. From the bleachers, she points out which members of the squad have never played before, and which joined last year. The entire girls basketball team is also playing softball, she said, as well as members of the volleyball and girls soccer teams. It’s a ragtag group, but one that, coached by Clark’s father, Brian Clark, is succeeding. The Blazers are 6-3 as of March 20, including an 11-0 win against Booker High in February. Clark, who has played on the Sarasota Christian varsity team since sixth grade, said she’ll occasionally give tips to players who need them, but hesitated to call herself a coach on the field. It’s her dad’s team, she said, and she joked that he’d get mad at her if she tried to steal his role. Watching the team grow has been "a lot of fun," she said. 

Clark said she’s had fleeting thoughts of playing for a bigger high school, but doesn’t want to leave the Blazers behind. It’s a family affair, she said. Not only does her father coach, but her uncle, Dallas, was the previous head coach, and almost her whole family attended the school. It’s where she grew into the person she is now.

Sarasota Christian sophomore softballer McKenzie Clark is committed to the University of Clemson.

Clark literally wears her other passions on her sleeve. The compression sleeve on her right arm is complemented by three bracelets on her left: One signifying Crohn's disease awareness, one for suicide prevention, and one for adoption, which is especially personal for her. 

Brian Clark and his wife, Carrie Clark, couldn’t have children, so they adopted both Clark and a son named Hunter, who is now 19. Clark was born in Minnesota to mother Jennifer Day. It’s a semi-open adoption, meaning she still has communication with Day. They send each other letters, and Day recently sent Clark a heart necklace as a 16th birthday present. Clark doesn’t remember her life before she knew she was adopted, or what that meant. It’s a part of who she is, and she’s thankful for the love of all her parents, biological or not.

“Early on, it was a little bit (strange),” Brian Clark said. “You know, my wife and I are both average white people (laughs). We’d get ‘the look’ from people, and this and that. But it’s one of those things. We were supposed to have these two kids at their juncture in life, and our juncture in life. We’re blessed to have them.”

McKenzie said she and Carrie are planning to visit Day when McKenzie turns 18. She says it while trying to contain a smile, but she can’t.

Until that day, Clark is going to do what she does best, and that's own the diamond. Hitting .654 on the season, Clark will lead the Blazers as far as her bat and speed can. However it ends, you can bet a celebratory slice of strawberry pie will be calling her name. 

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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