CLEARFIELD — Bathed in the blinding blue sky, young boys and girls, spaced out haphazardly along the Clearfield High tennis courts, gripped tennis rackets; for many of them, the shiny new racket given to them on this day was the only thing they owned.
Connor Clark stood in the corner of the court, looking at the 14 children. They were from the Christmas Box House, a shelter for neglected or abused children. In the children, their smiles and their spirits — both radiant from the morning’s excitement — Clark saw his brother.
Five years ago, Clark’s brother, Payton, had been one of them, a child without a home, an innocent victim of life’s cruelty. Payton was two years old and living at the Christmas Box House when the Clarks adopted him. They gave him the chance at life the kids Connor saw on the court had never been given.
It is for this reason Clark organized the event, a tennis clinic held Saturday morning for children from the Christmas Box House. His brother had been given a family and a house and basic necessities, like warm clothes for when the weather turns cold. For the children on the court — who clutched ever so tightly to their racket, the one thing in their lives undeniably, unquestionably theirs — such a fate had not yet been granted.
Clark, a 15-year-old sophomore at Clearfield High, can’t give the children those things. He can’t give them what has been given to his brother. What he can do, though, is share with them a part of him, something he loves, and hope that for a little while, at least, they are happy.
Shy and reserved, Clark was hesitant to accept praise lobbed his way for putting on the clinic, which will complete his Eagle Scout, as well as fulfill a requirement for his International Baccalaureate program.
The day, he insisted, was for the children and for the Christmas Box House, which has done so much to impact the lives of children in need.
“I’m so grateful to them for what they do,” Conner said of the Christmas Box House. “It’s just amazing what they do, and I just wanted to help out and give them something.”
Near the end of the clinic, Trudi Clark, Connor’s mother, shuffled along outside the court, helping prepare sandwiches for lunch. A young girl, roughly the same age as Payton when the Clarks adopted him, caught her attention. Trudi paused. Sunglasses hid the tears lining her eyes, but a quivering voice betrayed her emotion.
“I appreciate that the (Christmas Box House) gave a safe place for our little guy,” Trudi said. “These kids are completely uprooted, so it’s amazing to have them smile, even if it’s only for two hours right now.
“They don’t have anything. So for them to be able to have a racket, something they own that feels part of them. ...” Her voice bled into the emotion, and she didn’t finish the sentence.
Connor understands that not all the kids at the clinic will form a lifelong bond with tennis, the way he did when his grandfather introduced him to the sport. But if the clinic sparks an interest for even one of the children, Connor will be ecstatic — though he’s measuring the success of the day in much simpler terms.
“Even if they don’t like tennis,” he said. “It’s still something fun to do for the day.”
The support Conner had in putting on the event was overwhelming. Through donations, in addition to giving each child their own racket, he was able to provide the Christmas Box House with over 150 balls, a portable net and extra rackets for kids who come through the house in the future, meaning the children who want to play more will have the opportunity.
As well as the donations, which Trudi estimated in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, nearly 20 volunteers showed up. There were more instructors than children, allowing each of the kids to get one-on-one attention.
“Most of these kids come from homes where they don’t get many experiences in life,” said Courtney Pendleton, a Christmas Box House staffer, who said only one or two of the kids had ever played tennis before. “This is really valuable for them, I think. The talk about sportsmanship at the beginning and stuff like that is really helpful.”
Lurking through the chain-link fence surrounding the court, Connor’s grandfather, Wes Boman, watched with interest. It was he who first fostered Connor’s love of tennis. He can trace the lineage — he passed on his passion for tennis to Connor, and Connor, in turn, has now passed it on to the children.
Seeing the children for the first time experience the twang up the arm of a tennis ball connecting with the taught strings of the racket, Boman’s wrinkled face glowed.
“It really touches my heart,” Boman said. “I’m so proud of the things (Connor) has accomplished, and this is just one of the icings on the cake. He’s doing something for the kids at Christmas Box, and yet it’s part of his love of tennis.
“You never think about the sport of tennis going beyond just the court, but he’s helping others get involved and giving them an advantage that would not be available to them otherwise.”