Big Daddy: The Life of Coach Glen R. Clem

Words by Al Blanton

 

Glen R. Clem discouraged the wearing of earrings while he was the head basketball coach at Walker College. You might say because Clem came from the “old school” he thought a man wearing an earring was a bit ridiculous.

That fall, the Walker College Rebels were posing for team pictures, but Coach Clem was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s Coach Clem?” everyone wondered.

Clem was never late, and it seemed odd that he wasn’t there.

As the photographer was positioning the players and managers, they heard the famous clanking of the locker room door, and in walked Clem, wearing a splendid suit and his wife Sadie’s earring in one ear.

If there ever was a hilarious character in Walker County, it was Glen R. Clem.

A native of Ardmore, Alabama, Glen R. Clem was born in 1937 to be a basketball coach. He lettered in football, basketball, and baseball at Ardmore High School and received a basketball scholarship to Northeast Mississippi Junior College. After one season, he transferred to Birmingham-Southern College, where he played for three years, averaging 16 points per game.

Clem was hired at Walker College in 1959 by Dr. David Rowland. He never coached anywhere else.

Across 37 seasons, Clem amassed 557 wins against 443 losses, coaching in exactly one thousand games. But the stats don’t really matter. Yes, he won. And he won a lot. But he also lost a lot.

What mattered was that Clem created joy for a small town in Alabama. Walker College basketball gave us reason to cheer. And cheer we did. This is a hard life, and I think we deserve a little celebration from time to time. Clem furnished it.

What saddens me deeply is that in little this neck of the woods young kids who hurl a round sphere up towards an iron rim will never know who Glen Clem was. To them, he’s just a name on an old decaying gym. But to thousands of us who knew him, who were blessed for a short while to attend one of his famous basketball camps or to play for him, to those who waved to him on the street, dealt with him in business, or played golf with him, to anyone who came inside his orbit, they walked away knowing that they would never meet anyone quite like him ever again. Coach Glen Clem left that kind of mark on a person’s mind.

One might lament that the basketball program that Glen Clem worked so vigorously to build is no longer. One day before too long, the gym will be torn down. Years from now, one will wonder where all the pictures of Walker College basketball went. The few old uniforms that are left will be stored in an attic or museum somewhere. We’ll have to look hard for find vestiges to remind us that there even was a program.

But if you want evidence, just ask around. Glen Clem lives in the stories of Al McAdams, Ronnie Shaw, Robert Epps, Rusty Richardson, Wimp Sanderson, Charlie Stephens, and many, many more. Yes, too, they live in me.

Clem wasn’t concerned about building a basketball program that would stand the test of time. Even he had to know that the program would be temporal and that the banners would mold and the trophies would rust. Clem was concerned about building winners. His chief intent was that young men grow into gentlemen; basketball was merely the means to execute it.

There is no telling how far and great Glen Clem’s influence has extended. It will continue through bloodlines. Dads will share those principles with their sons, and sons with their sons.

Honestly, it just doesn’t seem right when men like this die. They leave such an imprint on this world that no shoe could ever fill it. The Good Lord cut him out and He doesn’t make clones. There are no cookie cutter people. And there was only one Glen Clem.

I’m just thankful our worlds overlapped, even if it seems all to brief a time together.

Coach, it was a pleasure to know you. Here I am, twenty years later, writing about you.

And I promise one thing. I promise this, because I know how great an influence you had on my life.

I will never stop telling your story. 78 

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