The Comeback Kid: Noah Clark proves it’s the finish that matters

The Comeback Kid: Noah Clark proves it’s the finish that matters

Image Credit: Justin Smith

Sports fans love a good comeback story.

When West Holmes senior quarterback Noah Clark led come-from-behind, game-winning drives against Mansfield Senior and Wooster earlier this season, they were two of the greatest moments of his athletic career.

The Knights are 8-0 and ranked fourth in the latest Associated Press Div. III state poll, with Clark bouncing back from an injury-plagued junior season.

However, nothing Clark does in his life will compare to the comeback he made starting on the day of his birth, thanks in large part to the loving family that adopted him.

Clark, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound football and baseball star, was born drug exposed in January 2004. He was placed in the Wayne County Children’s Services’ Foster-to-Adopt program and welcomed into the home of Don and Cheryl Clark.

“Whenever you get a child in placement, children's services’ first goal is always to reunite the child with their birth parents,” Don Clark said. “We were what they call Foster-to-Adopt parents, which means we had the training that should a child come up for adoption, we would not have to do anything else in order to adopt. The day we picked Noah up, I just felt God telling me that this boy is gonna be a Clark some day.”

Do you want him?

To understand how Noah came to be a Clark, one needs to first go back about 25 years before his birth.

Don Clark had recently graduated from Wooster High School, where he played baseball, and Cheryl was a Smithville graduate. They were married and soon after had three children: Holly Shilling, now 39; Nathan, 38; and Adam, 34.

Once the three kids had graduated from West Holmes High School, Don and Cheryl Clark were in their late 30s and decided they wanted to have another child. Father Time had caught up to the Clarks, though, and they weren’t able to conceive.

That’s when the Clarks decided to explore the idea of fostering a child with the potential to adopt. It eventually led to them adopting three children — Hannah, now 19; Noah, 17; and Madison, 14 — into their home in Big Prairie Township.

“Hannah stayed with us for 19 months, and then the decision was made to reunite her with her birth mom,” Cheryl Clark said. “It was heartbreaking. Someone from children’s services called me and said, ‘Since you're losing her, would you be willing to take a little boy that was born this morning? And he is drug exposed. You never know what you're going to get with that, but I was totally willing to try it and went from there.”

Cheryl Clark said “yes” without first checking with Don, but he also was “totally” on board with the decision.

“We picked Noah up the day after he was born,” Cheryl Clark said.

Due to the drug exposure, it was difficult in the early months. Noah Clark didn’t want to be held at all and screamed when exposed to the sun.

“It was tough,” Don Clark said. “God bless my wife. She worked with Noah, stayed awake and held him every night, and after about six weeks, the drugs slowly started to work out of his system. We just decided we would love him and let God take care of it. It didn't take too long to realize that he was a vibrant, young, growing boy who was right up there with all the rest of the kids.”

It was soon decided Noah would be permanently adopted. Adding to their joy, Hannah also was given back to the Clarks and adopted.

“Joel Osteen is a minister who we listened to a lot at that time, and he always said, ‘God will bless you double for your trouble,’” Cheryl Clark said. “We ended up getting Hannah back, and we got Noah too. We got a double blessing.”

The Clarks were up front from an early age with Hannah, Noah and Madison that they were adopted.

Noah has always focused on the blessings in his life, rather than feel sad his birth mom had to give him up.

“I’m glad my mom's being honest about this,” Noah said. “I don't know where I’d be right now if it wasn’t for my mom and dad, and there's nowhere else I would rather be. I’ve loved every second of it, good and bad. I'm thankful they’ve taken me in and loved me like I am one of their own because I am.”

Noah actually got to know his birth mom for several years while growing up, but unfortunately, she is not presently a part of his life. Noah found out she had several other children after him, and he’s proud to be a mentor to two younger brothers and a sister, who live with their uncle and aunt.

In addition to six children, the Clarks now have 11 grandchildren.

Off and running

The Clarks’ biological children were all good athletes. Holly lettered four years in softball while Nathan and Adam were both three-year varsity baseball players.

Soon after Noah could stand, Don was tossing balls to him, and they were running around in the yard. Noah was off and running to a sports career that no one could have envisioned.

This past spring Noah was the top pitcher and hitter for a West Holmes baseball team that finished with a 19-8 record. He batted .387 and was 8-3 on the mound with a school-record 76 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA, helped by throwing back-to-back no-hitters against Mansfield Senior and Union Local.

Noah is the top-rated passer in the Wayne-Holmes area this fall, going 113 for 167 passing with 1,962 yards, 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He's added 46 rushes for 141 yards. He directs an offense rich in talent, which also includes the likes of running backs Sam Williams-Dixon and Brett Shearer, wideouts Garrett Eastep and Tucker Kaufman, and a strong offensive line.

The Knights dominated previously 6-1 Shelby 51-14 on Oct. 8. West Holmes can wrap up a perfect regular season with a win at Ashland (3-5) on Oct. 15 and at home against Mount Vernon (2-6) on Oct. 22.

“I’m open to playing football or baseball in college,” said Noah, an honor student who wants to become a chiropractor.

West Holmes football coach Zach Gardner marvels at the exceptional life Noah’s lived and all that’s in store for him in the future.

“I'm so proud of Noah Clark in every phase of his life,” said Gardner, whose team has set a goal of winning the first regional title in program history after its first 8-0 start since 1999. “He has grown so much, and he is just an exceptional leader, an exceptional kid. I love coaching him. It’s not about where he started, but about the loving family who has raised him so well and how hard he’s worked.”

It’s a story the Clarks hesitated to share publicly at first because it’s very personal — a story not so much about athletic success, but about faith, love and overcoming.

Noah was courageous enough to share his story because he wants to get the word out about foster and adoptive parents.

“I want to show that no matter what happens, if you have faith that everything will work out, then eventually you’ll get there,” Noah said. “Nothing worth it will ever come easy, and if you can learn that, you can overcome anything.”

Don said, “Many people wonder, as we did, if they have what it takes to open their hearts and homes to these young lives. For our family, it has truly been a blessing. There are some success stories.”

Indeed, Noah Clark has a comeback story worth telling and retelling.

For more information on Wayne County Children’s Services and its Foster-to-Adopt program, call 330-345-5340.

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at aarondorksen24@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronDorksen.