As the college landscape continues to broaden, more and more casual football and basketball fans have become familiar with the University of Central Florida, or UCF.
Most recently, UCF’s hiring of George O’Leary brought national attention to the football team. The school’s move to Conference USA has also brought increased exposure to the basketball team.
UCF is now regularly sending players to the NFL, with Daunte Culpepper, Asante Samuel, and Kevin Smith among the school’s most notable. The basketball team appears on the verge of doing the same.
But long before those names and teams made history at UCF, a different set of coaches and players were making their own history.
Enter Flagler College.
The first part of the Flagler College series left off with current Flagler head man Bo Clark deciding to play under his father, Torchy Clark, at UCF. Little did Bo or Torchy know that they were beginning the tradition of a father-son legacy at Flagler College.
Bo Clark was a three-time All-American while at UCF, and has proven to be just as good a coach, racking up four Coach of the Year Awards over the last seven season.
To find out where Clark gets his winning ways, his passion, and his work ethic, though, look no further than Clark’s father, Eugene “Torchy” Clark, the fiery general who started the basketball program at UCF.
Rewind to 1969, when UCF—then named Florida Technological Institute—put in a call to Torchy Clark, who was busy entrenching himself in success at Xavier High School, in Appleton, Wisconsin. As both a football and basketball coach at Xavier, Torchy stockpiled a combined record of 277-35-2 in his ten years.
Torchy touched hundreds of lives at Xavier, and his success was unparalleled. Out of respect for the impact Torchy made on the school and the community, Xavier’s gym is named in Torchy’s honor.
But Torchy sought a bigger challenge, and even though UCF’s offer was less than enticing, Clark agreed, eager for a challenge. UCF had no gym in which to play their games, no scholarships to offer—but the idea of beginning a program intrigued Torchy.
Playing their home games at local Winter Park High School, Torchy’s first team finished 11-3, due mostly to the ringer Torchy brought with him from Wisconsin: Torchy’s son and Bo’s older brother, Mike Clark, who averaged 24.4 ppg. At the time, Bo Clark was only in Junior High.
As Torchy continued to build UCF’s program over the next few years, Bo got busy turning heads on the court at Bishop Moore High School.
It was around that time that Bo met Stan Pietkiewicz, a six-five standout guard at Winter Park High School—the same Winter Park where UCF played their home games.
Bo and Stan became fast friends, finding similarities in their love of the game and admiration for Pete Maravich. A friendly rivalry between the two future college stars began, as the two faced off in high school games, but also in countless one-on-one games.
After successful high school careers, Bo and Stan went separate ways. While Bo headed to UCF, Stan chose to play in the SEC at Auburn University.
Their friendship still intact, both Bo and Stan continued to have success on the collegiate level.
In addition to his countless scoring records and other personal accomplishments, Bo’s time at UCF also coincided with the team’s most success.
During Bo’s stint, UCF was ranked in the top 10 nationally, won three conference championships, and made three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, including a trip to the Final Four in 1978.
UCF’s exposure eventually went nationwide, as the father-son duo was featured in a 1979 Sports Illustrated issue.
Meanwhile, Stan achieved similar success at Auburn. As a senior, he averaged 19.1 points per game, dropping a career high 35 against Tennessee in his final game, all while shooting 51 percent from the field for the year. Stan’s achievements led to an All-SEC second-team selection and a brief NBA career.
Today, you will still find Stan in Auburn’s record books. His career free throw percentage remains at the top of the list, and his scoring totals are in the top 20 of the school’s history.
Roughly 30 years later, a new set of young players named Clark and Pietkiewicz are making names for themselves—but this time as teammates.
Much like their fathers, JP Clark and John Pietkiewicz met through basketball, tagging along at their fathers’ annual summer basketball camp. The two eventually outgrew the competition at the YMCA camps, and both had successful high school careers of their own—JP at Nease High School, and John at his father’s alma mater, Winter Park High School.
This past 2007-2008 season, John and JP joined forces on Flagler’s team. While JP was a junior co-captain, John came on the scene as an all-conference freshman.
And the family tradition will continue next year, as Bo’s second son, David, is set to join the Saints on the basketball court.
It’s been said that basketball is a metaphor for life, and it seems the unlikely story of the Clark-Pietkiewicz families pays homage to this adage.
But what makes the lives of these individuals so unique is not the list of accomplishments they have achieved.
It is what they stand for.
While this narrative revolves around several people, it is really about one legendary coach: Torchy Clark. And so it seems appropriate to end this story with a few words about the man who began it.
Torchy Clark is a member of the UCF Hall of Fame, Florida Sports Hall of Fame, Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame, and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
UCF’s College of Education renamed its gym the Eugene "Torchy" Clark Gymnasium, and it also created an endowment in Clark's name.
He is adored and respected by entire states and institutions for whom he has worked. But even though these accolades are special, they are not what define Torchy Clark.
A devout Catholic, Torchy Clark places his faith above all else.
Faith is what got Torchy Clark through jawbone cancer, through his wife’s passing this past year, and certainly whatever will come his way in life from here out.
A husband to his wife Claire for 57 years, a father to five, a grandfather to 17, and a mentor to a countless number of players, students, and adults, Torchy Clark’s outlook on life is safe in the hands of those who understand what Torchy represents.
In the final installment of his Flagler College Basketball series, Tim Pollock will profile current Flagler player, John Pietkiewicz.