WATERTOWN — Mitch Clark has deep pride in his roots of being an athlete from the north country.
Clark, a standout wrestler who won national championships both at the scholastic and collegiate levels, was one of five individuals honored Saturday night at the third annual North Country Sports Hall of Fame dinner and induction and celebration at the Italian American Club.
Along with Clark, this year’s class includes former college basketball official Jim Burr, former major-league pitcher Jim Deshaies, racing Hall of Famer Bob McCreadie and lacrosse standout Ryan Powell.
Also honored were the 1997 and 2004 Sandy Creek softball teams that both won state championships.
“It’s really cool,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of pride in the north country, people that are from the north country, the pride they feel speaks volumes.”
Clark is a Canton Central School graduate and Ohio State product. With his family in attendance, along with his dad John, a former St. Lawrence University wrestling coach and athletic director at the school, Clark couldn’t help himself from getting a little emotional.
“I’m a north country guy, so this means the world to me,” Mitch Clark said.
As a high school wrestler, Clark placed second twice in the state tournament and completed his high school career as Section 10’s all-time winningest wrestler.
Despite coming up short in the state final as a senior, Clark went on to win the 171-pound weight class title in the National High School Wrestling Championships in April 1993.
“We had a good team,” Clark said of Canton. “I was a three-time place finisher at states and I was a two-time runner up there. But I ended up winning high school nationals, so I guess it ended well. But I didn’t get my ultimate goal achieved in trying to be Section 10’s first state champion, but my brother John ended up being the first Section 10 champion.”
Clark went onto a standout career at Ohio State, and he finished his collegiate career on top of the wrestling world with an 18-0 first-period technical fall in the 177-pound title match against West Virginia’s Vertus Jones, a feat that remains the fastest technical fall in NCAA title history.
He went 39-1 during his senior year in 1998 and 77-6 in his final two seasons. He also finished second in the NCAAs during his junior year and was a two-time Big Ten Conference champion.
An All-American for the Buckeyes, who compiled a 119-30 record, Clark went on to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials, losing both bouts, after taking sixth in the U.S. National Freestyle Tournament in 2000.
“When I went to Ohio State it was like a business,” said Clark, who is the author of the book, “Make It Happen,” an autobiography of his wrestling experiences. “Now looking back, even though I didn’t accomplish as much in high school as I did in college, my favorite time in athletics was as a high school athlete.”
Clark’s wrestling coach at Canton, Neal Riggs, was also in attendance.
Clark was the only individual inductee who attended.
Former Sandy Creek softball coach Pat McDougal, who founded the program in the late 1970s, guided her teams to a 334-87 record in 19 seasons. Overall, the program has won numerous Frontier League titles as well as 22 Section 3 crowns.
“The first state tournament we went to was in 1991 and we went in ‘93, ’95 and then ’97,” McDougal said. “That’s what made us so good was our program, like our modified team had a lot of success. We all built the program.”
In 1997, the Comets went 27-2 and won the program’s first state championship at Clifton Commons in Clifton Park.
“That was a special year, to see us have the ultimate success at that level,” McDougal said.
Led by All-North MVP and New York State co-player of the year Margaret Yerdon, Sandy Creek’s team included four All-State players including Yerdon, Jessica Soule, Crystal Reid and Alicia Hovey, who is the Comets’ current varsity softball coach.
Sandy Creek’s 2004 state title team was also well represented as its coach Bill Fowler was in attendance.
“That was a special team, but it was really the teams before which really laid the ground work for our success,” Fowler recalled.
That year behind the pitching of senior Jen Moody, the Comets won a second state title in Class C, blanking Bolivar-Richburg, 5-0, in the final.
The Comets finished 28-1, with Moody going 18-1 and Kate Fowler was 7-0.
“The biggest thing you noticed about these girls was their work ethic,” Bill Fowler said. “That is what really got them to that level.”
Deshaies, who grew up in Massena and graduated from Massena High School in 1978, is likely the greatest MLB player to come from this area, as he pitched in the major leagues from 1984-1995.
He compiled an 84-95 record, striking out 951, and posting a career earned-run average of 4.14. He was a key part of a starting rotation that helped make the Astros perennial pennant contenders during the late 1980s. Deshaies, a 6-foot-4 left-hander, also played for the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring after the 1995 season.
Deshaies was a broadcaster for the Astros and is now an analyst for the Chicago Cubs.
Powell, a West Carthage native, followed the trail blazed by his older brother, Casey, at Carthage High School and Syracuse University. He assisted the Comets in winning four consecutive Frontier League title from 1993-96. As a sophomore, Powell propelled Carthage to a Section 3 Class B title in 1994.
He contributed 123 points as a senior for the Comets, was a high school All-American, and became the second leading scorer in the program’s history with 439 points. Casey Powell still holds the mark with 533.
Ryan Powell attended Syracuse and became one of just 13 players in school history to be a four-time All-American. He was a first-team selection at attack in 1999 and 2000. As a senior captain, Powell and the Orange won the national title in 2000 and he stands second all-time at SU with 287 career points, just like Casey. Their younger brother, Mike, holds the record with 307 points. Ryan also ranks in the top 10 in career assists (150) and goals (137).
Burr, who grew up in Henderson and currently lives in Florida, one of the first referees to work a Big East Conference basketball game and a 39-year veteran of officiating, announced his retirement in 2015.
He got his start in officiating as a high school youth at Henderson Central School and went on to work seven NCAA title games and 16 Final Fours. Burr did most of his work with the Big East, but also officiated in every major college basketball conference east of the Mississippi. Burr began officiating games college games in 1972 with Division III teams such as SUNY Potsdam and St. Lawrence University. He moved on to Division I four years later.
McCreadie, who grew up in Watertown, went on to become the most successful driver in modified racing. He compiled 507 track victories between 1975 and 2005. He has won at 56 speedways, captured 29 points championships and eight series championships. He won 47 features alone in 1994. McCreadie won the prestigious Super DIRT Week race in 1986 at the Syracuse fairgrounds track and won back-to-back Super DIRT series titles in 1994 and 1995.
In April 2003, he was inducted into the Walk of Fame at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. and with the nickname of “Barefoot” McCreadie was also inducted into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame in Weedsport.