2021-22 Gazette Boys Indoor Track Athlete of the Year: Jonas Clarke, South Hadley

Before he ever set foot on a racetrack, people knew Jonas Clarke had wheels. But the real question was – how fast could he go?

“I first saw him run in a football game. Someone said, ‘Take care of this kid. He’s fast,’” said South Hadley course coach Nick Davis. “And obviously he was fast. It’s hard to say – are you fast in football against other kids, and it only looks like you’re flying because this guy who plays defense is really slow? Or are you that fast?”

When he joined the South Hadley track team it became clear that Clarke really was that fast. In just four years, Clarke has established himself as one of the fastest high school students in the state of Massachusetts, breaking record after record in his pursuit of personal bests. Clarke ran a 6.24 second time in the 55-meter dash at the MIAA Division V Indoor Track & Field Championships, setting a competition record, a state record and tying the best time in the country in one fell swoop. During that indoor season, he also posted a 60-meter dash time of 6.69 seconds, another state and New England record and good for third place at the New Balance Nationals meeting, and ran a 200-meter dash in 21.57 seconds, which gave him fifth place in the Nationals.

Those accomplishments made Clarke an easy pick for the 2021-22 Gazette Boys Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.

“I would argue that there’s a fair chance that he’s the best athlete to come through South Hadley in the next 50 years and probably in the last 50 years,” Davis said. “I don’t know anyone off the top of their head who placed that high at a national championship meeting.”

He has time to improve even further during the outdoor season before graduating and leaving high school for good. He will continue his running career at Harvard, where he will finally have access to world-class facilities he didn’t have during his time with the Tigers. They got creative and made it work, but running short hallways, training without a weight room this past winter, and working out kinks during competitions didn’t set the ideal stage for a potential world-class sprinter.

Despite the obstacles, Clarke thrived under the tutelage of Davis, who was named MIAA Girls’ Outdoor Coach of the Year in 2021 (Davis oversees both sides of the South Hadley track program). In fact, Davis is one of the main reasons Clarke has stayed in South Hadley for the last four years – as a junior, he wasn’t sure he would transfer to a new school to finish his high school career.

“I don’t think if I had another coach I would be where I am now to be honest. I don’t say this too often, but when I was a little younger, freshman and sophomore, I didn’t really like high school, especially South Hadley. I’ve really considered moving,” Clarke said. “But I kind of stayed because I knew that if I didn’t have Nick as my coach I wouldn’t be offered another opportunity down the track. And that has definitely paid off.”

Davis and Clarke can get technical as they talk about the course and get down to the basics of what Clarke needs to change with his blocks, his mechanics, his stance—everything. As Clarke grew older and more mature as a competitor, he quickly understood these things – often during a practice session or after a race Clarke can turn around and tell Davis exactly what went wrong and how he can change it. He understands the basics of sprinting. He’s come a long way from the football kid who never got out of a block start.

“I wish I had a video of his first block start. Everyone would just laugh and say there’s no way it’s the same kid,” Davis said. “It’s come in leaps and bounds from where it was and the fact that he can still do so much more with it is amazing.”

Although he takes his training seriously, Clarke has learned that relaxation and time for fun are just as important as intense training. One of the ways he relaxes is by doing TikTok dances with teammate Emma Sanford (he’s amassed over 35,000 followers).

“I feel like I can’t take everything so seriously, especially at the high level I’m at, otherwise I would actually get anxious and a little bit nervous. I kind of realized how nervous I was going to get in my sophomore year of high school, especially with state stuff coming up and everyone talking about this really quick sophomore year,” Clarke said. “But doing these TikToks, having friends who can just goof around after a workout makes me feel great.”

For now, Clarke will enjoy the rest of his senior year and see what other records he can break during the outdoor season. What could he achieve next year at Harvard? The sky is the limit.

“I feel pretty good when I say, ‘Hey, I’m running these times now.’ I’m so excited to see what I can achieve next year,” Clarke said.

FIRST TEAM ALL STARS

Ben BuffoneSenior, Amherst

Tyler Evans, Junior, South Hadley

Gulian MarconiSenior, Hampshire

David Pinero-Jacomesophomore, Amherst

Liam Sibley-WelchSenior, South Hadley

Jack Vecelliosenior, border

SECOND TEAM ALL STARS

■Josh DenoronhaJunior, Hampshire

Diego LopezJunior, Amherst

Jude MouradJunior, Northampton

Rowan HodgsonJunior, Northampton

Theodore King-Polletsophomore, Northampton

Alex CaldonaroSenior, Northampton

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