Football player honors a great family friend, and other families in crisis
VANCOUVER — He showed up to practice, proudly wearing his Prairie helmet, ready to represent the Falcons at the Freedom Bowl Classic.
A closer look at the helmet revealed a date.
“April 5, 2019.”
Jake Clark and his family lost a dear friend that day.
That friend, Bill Joyce, was friends with Jake’s dad, Rob Clark, for 50 years.
A half-century of friendship.
Bill was not family by blood, but he was family.
And this is a football family, too.
Jake Clark is planning to continue his football career at Pacific University in Forest Grove.
Bill and Rob had a plan, too. They were going to tailgate at Pacific, then watch Jake take the field.
“I put the date on there because it means something for my family,” Jake Clark said.
He dedicated the game to Bill, to honor not just Bill but also Jake’s dad. He wanted to let everyone know just how special of a bond those two had, and how that great relationship inspired their children.
The gesture was special to Rob.
“Jake came to me and said, ‘Dad, I have one high school game left. I’d like to dedicate it to Bill.’ He understands the meaning of family and good friends. That’s the simplest way to say it. He knows what it means to be surrounded by good people.”
So on Saturday night at McKenzie Stadium, Jake Clark played his final high school game, helping the West beat the East all-stars 6-0 in the 2019 Freedom Bowl Classic. Clark, a linebacker, had six tackles in the shutout.
There is more to this dedication, though. You see, Jake announced to his family what he was going to do before Freedom Bowl week. During the week, though, he was among the players who visited Shriners Hospitals for Children in Portland. This game, after all, is a charity event put on by local Shriners.
Clark decided to do a double-dedication.
“It’s not just his dedication,” Jake said of Bill Joyce. “It’s also for all the families going through hard times.”
He saw some patients at the hospital, he got a tour detailing the facility, and he learned about the hardships so many families must endure when their children are sick or injured.
There are those who cannot play football, now or never, or any other sport. He wanted to play for them, too.
“This is for those who are no longer with us or who can’t do it,” Clark said.
When he was younger, Jake and his dad used to come to the Freedom Bowl Classic, as fans.
“I just remember thinking, ‘One day, I want to be here.’ To actually be here, it’s a dream come true,” Jake said.
Carter Morse of Hudson’s Bay forced two fumbles and seemed to be in just about every play on defense. And on offense, he scored the only touchdown with a diving catch in the fourth quarter. For his efforts, he was named the game’s overall MVP.
Commitment: Over the years, the Freedom Bowl has extended its boundaries, allowing for more schools to participant. That makes for a long drive for some of the players. One, Cole Dorman, played 8-man football at Naselle.
He made it to practice all week — that’s a four-hour round-trip — and it paid off for him. A quarterback, he earned the West’s offensive MVP award for his touchdown pass.
The other MVPs: Ridgefield’s Makani Schultz was the defensive MVP for the West squad. On the East team, Jacob Leckie of Evergreen was the defensive MVP and Evergreen running back Trent Hemann was named the top player on offense.
Salute: Here is a shout-out to all who played this year. It is not easy giving up a week in the summer, especially for those players coming from the coast. It is also difficult for coaches and players to find the right mix for quality execution. There is a limited practice schedule. Still, the game has a great cause. And those who play, coach, and officiate, you are appreciated — Paul Valencia