In the late 1950s, there were few if any athletes in Kings County to rival Berwick's Robert Norman Clark, who excelled in track and field and was equally successful in both jumping and throwing events.
Robert's earliest memories of track and field are of a meet in 1950 held behind the old Berwick school, organized by Principal C.G. Sutherland and Vice-Principal Ian Robb. Some of the local competitors included Eddie Nichols, Paul Ward, Don Weir, Donnie Hall and Darrell Corbett.
Robert first became involved in track and field competition in the spring of 1953, while a student at Central Kings Rural High School. He competed in interscholastic meets in discus, shot put and javelin, and also counted the high jump, broad (long) jump and triple jump as part of his repertoire. Proper preparation was always a key to his success. “I trained hard during the summer, around my work program on the farm,” he says. “I trained alone, and I always wished I had someone to push me.”
Among the individuals Robert credits for helping him to excel in his athletic endeavours were Burton Bowlby, his first coach at Central Kings, Al Peppard of Middleton and Wally Barteaux of Kentville.
Robert's real heyday as an elite track and field athlete spanned the years 1956-1960. He competed at meets in Bridgetown, Halifax, Truro, Amherst, Antigonish and Summerside as well as at the Acadia Relays, a top-level annual meet held in Wolfville in which both high school and university athletes competed.
In 1956, he merited a Physical Education award for his prowess in basketball, volleyball and track and field at Central Kings. He won the discus and high jump at the Acadia Relays in 1956, and was the Maritime champion in the high jump, broad jump and discus in 1957.
Robert recalls the Highland Games in Antigonish as “the meet where I first began reaching a peak in my throwing. Sandy Patterson had been coming to Antigonish from Boston every year to win the discus, but I spoiled his fun.” In 1956, Robert earned trophies at both the Highland Games (where he competed with the Navy team from Cornwallis) and the Maritime Championship held during the Summerside Lobster Carnival.
During those years, the Royal Canadian Legion sponsored a training program known as the Canadian Olympic Training Plan. Robert was a member of the COTP team for two successive years, training at the University of Toronto and having the opportunity to train under the best coaches in Canada.
Robert and Peter Simmonds, a student-athlete at Queen Elizabeth High School in Halifax who would go on to star in basketball and track and field at Acadia, topped the list in physical fitness testing by a Military Training Team.
Robert competed for a berth on the Canadian Olympic track and field team, and while he fell short of his goal of qualifying, he competed with and against many athletes who did make it to the Olympics.
After graduating from high school, Robert attended the Nova Scotia Agricultural College from 1957-1959, then moved on to the University of Guelph to study for a degree in Poultry Science.
At Guelph, he was a member of the school's track and field team. Competing in Ontario/Quebec intercollegiate meets, he captured both gold and silver medals. In 1961, his final year of competition at the university level, he placed first in the discus at the Ontario Intercollegiate meet.
Robert originally intended to enter the Air Force, but his father convinced him to return to the farm. His fascination with flying led to flight training at Greenwood, and eventually to his own pilot's license. He has been flying for more than 50 years; he and his wife Ruth once flew across Canada in a vintage biplane.
The Berwick Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to induct, in the athlete category, Robert Norman Clark, one of the finest athletes of his generation and a credit to the area in which he grew up and still resides.
Inducted June 2011