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Jamie Vaught: Kentucky-born author George Thomas Clark once scored 41 points in high school

When I contacted author George Thomas “Tom” Clark about his recently-published books, I was stunned to learn that he was originally from Kentucky and partially grew up in Bowling Green. It’s a small world and Kentucky isn’t even mentioned anywhere in his biography on Amazon and his website.

Other than the star athletes who have their biographies published, Clark, who now lives in Bakersfield, California, is actually not your typical author as he was a high school basketball star, and he still follows basketball and football as an avid fan. He also has been a big fan of Western Kentucky University for decades.

George Thomas Clark during an Encina High School alumni game. (Photo courtesy Encina High School)

When the author attended Encina High School in Sacramento, California, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 20 points as a senior, including a 41-point performance, during the 1969-70 season. He was also named to the All-Conference team.

But he didn’t move on to play college basketball.

“I want to stress that I was no better than a (NCAA) Division II player,” said Clark. “Division I guys had more game. But I could really shoot and am still proud of my play.

“I could’ve played JC (junior college) and Division II basketball but was tired of coaches and stress so I spent many years playing high-level pickup games with college players and other hoopsters at Sacramento State and around town. I worked hard, strengthening and speed as well as hoops, and reached my potential but wasn’t going to be a Clem Haskins or Jim McDaniels, or from UK, DeAaron Fox, who now plays for the Kings (in the NBA).”

Asked about his early days in Kentucky, Clark said, “My parents divorced when I was a kid in Bowling Green. My father lived there all his life and passed away years ago after having been a heavy smoker. My mother is now 93 and living in Bakersfield. She well remembers watching (future Western Kentucky University coach) Johnny Oldham play in the years after World War II. I’m going to call her now with news of his (2020) death as I just learned of when looking him up online.”

On legendary Oldham, Clark added, “This college season marked the 50th anniversary of Johnny Oldham’s retirement. He was just 46 at the time, two months short of 47. I see that he passed away in Bowling Green at the age of 97, having lived a very long and successful life. He was voted the best coach in the history of the old Ohio Valley Conference, a grouping I liked because of all the rivalries in Kentucky and Tennessee. And I’m sure you remember the 1971 Hilltoppers crushed the Wildcats of Adolph Rupp in the NCAA tournament en route to the Final Four.”

Clark also wrote a 285-page paperback, titled Basketball and Football, which was published in 2017. The enjoyable volume, filled with nonfiction and satirical stories, includes a chapter (Hoops on the Other Side) about pro basketball in Mexico as well as the 1965-71 history of WKU, which actually integrated Division I in the South.

“Two ex-Toppers, Steffphon Pettigrew and A’Darius Pegues were playing for the Guanajuato team when I was there in 2014,” said the adventurous author, who rented an apartment for one week so he can watch his first pro basketball game in Mexico.

Clark recently penned a blog about ex-baseball superstar Willie Mays, who turned 90 in early May. He often watched his favorite player play in the windy Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The first game he saw Mays took place in 1962 when the Giants faced an expansion club called the Houston Colt .45s.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including recently-published “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

“Willie Mays, the greatest baseball player who has yet lived, turns 90 today,” Clark wrote in his blog. “That not only means the ‘Say Hey Kid’ is getting up there but so are guys I grew up with who idolized Mays and still remember his scintillating presence. He hit home runs, he stretched singles into doubles, he stole bases, he blanketed the outfield, making memorable catches, and threw rockets to hold runners or cut them down if they dared run on him. Fans lined up to watch him play at home and on the road. Thousands every year sought his autograph. I hope they still have theirs. I somehow lost mine.

“Now, forty-eight years after he retired, Willie Mays is the oldest surviving dignitary in the Hall of Fame and the lone superstar of his generation still standing. Hank Aaron, his rival for the throne, passed away earlier this year. In 2020 several other greats departed, among them Bob Gibson, whose blazing fastball often confounded Mays, and Lou Brock, the most prolific base stealer of his time, and terrific Tom Seaver, an overpowering pitcher. Even superstars pass on like millions of average mortals who idolize them. I know Willie Mays misses his departed comrades but today he can celebrate. He’s still digging into the batter’s box and roaming center field. Happy Birthday, Number 24.”

Clark said his favorite author is legendary novelist Ernest Hemingway.

“Excitement and tragedy always surrounded the man, but most readers of his work – rather than books about him – set those things aside and are ultimately moved by how beautiful and compressed his language is,” said Clark. “With just a few words he conveys very strong emotions, and he does so in ways you always remember.”

Besides writing, Clark follows news and sports, exercises daily, collects contemporary art, enjoys independent movies, and travels to exotic places (most recently Madrid, Mexico City, Quito, Guanajuato, and Aguascalientes) where he can socialize in Spanish. Clark has also mentioned that he would like to move back to Sacramento, which has the NBA Kings and a great Crocker Art Museum.

Since retiring from full-time teaching English as a Second Language for adults in 2015, Clark has spent much more time in researching, reading and writing as he has written a total of 12 books, including four of political satire. “All my books are written from the liberal or progressive prospective,” he commented.

His latest book is Down Goes Trump, which was published after the 2020 election and updated after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Clark also wrote King Donald, examining the first Trump presidential campaign. Echoes from Saddam Hussein covers many of the key political events after the 2003 invasion of Iraq through 2008. Obama on Edge follows campaigns and news from 2007 to 2012.

Clark’s books are loaded with an entertaining collection of satirical stories based on news.

By the time you read this column, Clark also will have a new paperback, They Make Movies. The author explains the new volume combines history and fiction in portraying the lives of actors, actresses and directors, and their work.

If you’re interested, you can find more information about Clark’s books on Amazon or his website at www.georgethomasclark.com.

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