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REGGIE HAYES: Finally, a national anthem story with some love

Chip Clark, right, and his son, also named Chip, during a family outing. (Courtesy photo)
A painting by Michael Johnson of Bishop Dwenger running back Chip Clark, left, his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. They are all named Jimmie Clifton Clark. His great-grandfather died in May. (Courtesy photo)
Bishop Dwenger running back Chip Clark, left, tries to escape Concordia Lutheran defenders during their game this season. (Photo by Josh Gales for News-Sentinel.com)

This is a national anthem football story, mixed with a father and son story, and if it doesn’t make you feel good, I’m not sure I can write anything that will.

The story started when Bishop Dwenger High School senior running back Chip Clark went to athletic director John Bennett and said his dad, also known as Chip Clark, would sing the national anthem on Senior Night.

Then young Chip went and told his father he’d be singing.

“I just thought it would make Senior Night special,” young Chip said.

“He asked me a couple weeks ahead of time, so I told him yes, without hesitation,” the elder Chip said. “I like to fade to the background when he’s playing, but I was happy to do it for him.”

The last time the elder Chip Clark sang the national anthem was when he was a senior at Wayne High School in 1997. He’s a singer, and a passionate one. He works as a praise and worship pastor at Blackhawk Ministries, along with his role as urban ministry director for Youth for Christ.

“It just popped in my head one day to ask him to sing it,” young Chip said. “That was a great opportunity. After that, Mr. Bennett wanted him to sing it every home game.”

The elder Chip Clark delivered a rousing version of “The Star Spangled Banner” on Sept. 9 before the Senior Night win over Bishop Luers. He then had a slight anxiety attack.

“Maybe it was because the bishops were in the building, but I had never felt anything like that before,” the elder Chip said. “Typically, if I get nervous, I get to singing and I’m done. That night when I finished, I was overwhelmed with anxiety and I couldn’t explain it.”

The elder Chip left Zollner Stadium, went home to calm down, and returned to watch the second half.

Perhaps surprisingly, he agreed to sing the anthem again after that. Each time, he delivered a rendition that generated a tremendous positive reaction.

“The second time I did it, I definitely had more composure afterward,” he said. “I was hoping it was becoming a good luck charm at some point, but it didn’t work against Lowell.”

Clark’s final national anthem rendition – at least for now – came before Dwenger’s 21-7 loss to Lowell in the Class 4A semistate Friday at Homestead.

After hearing him sing, I hope it’s not the last time he delivers the anthem. Perhaps there will be a college opportunity. His oldest son, Amaun, is a player at the new program at Indiana Wesleyan University, which starts play in 2018. And the younger Chip hopes to land an opportunity to play in college next year, too. Incidentally, “Chip” is actually a nickname for both. They are the third and fourth Jimmie Clifton Clark.

Our national anthem, of course, has been at the center of controversy due to players in the NFL and at other levels kneeling and protesting in other ways during its playing.

I asked the elder Clark if he had thoughts on that issue.

“For me, I understand and resonate with both sides,” he said.

Clark’s father served in the military, as did some of his uncles and his nephew. He comes from a patriotic family in that regard, he said.

He also understands the desire by some to use the anthem protest to draw attention to problems specific to African Americans. He has his own experiences of dealing with racism and oppression.

“Because we live in the land of the free, but we’re not where we should be, there are reasons to bring light to that,” he said. “I hear that side, but I also understand and resonate with the other side. America is the land of the free and we should honor our patriots. I can understand where some would see (kneeling) as disrespect to those who have served.”

The elder Chip Clark points out what we all should recognize: Each of us comes from a different perspective and life experience, and that shapes feelings about the protests.

“I love that we do bring things to light, and I encourage the conversation,” he said. “If we’re honest with each other, it makes us all better.”

As a worship pastor and a Youth for Christ leader, the elder Chip Clark comes back to a higher truth that he tries to apply to his life and dealings with others.

“We come from difference perspectives,” he said. “I try to let people know: Love is still love.”

I admire the passion the elder Chip Clark put into his version of the anthem. I love how his son put the whole thing in motion. Love seems like a great starting point for all of us to move forward, if we can see the way there.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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