TRI-LAKES AREA — When Phil Clem was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce Banquet on Jan. 19, he was described as a coach and mentor.
According to his introduction at the ceremony, Clem, who is known simply as “Coach” to most people in Malvern, is “an instructor in the fundamentals of life - integrity and character.” The impact of his work in the community was called “truly amazing.”
Clem, who will be 65 on March 1, gives most of the credit for his accomplishments to those who have worked with him.
“I have had a lot of good people help me, and I have always enjoyed the work,” he said.
Clem has been chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Malvern and Hot Spring County on Moline Street since 1999. During his years at the club, the agency grew and moved into a new building.
“When I first worked with the club, I was the only one here,” Clem said. “Now there are so many helpers. I think about 26 people work part time for the club each week. Some come in only one day a week, and some are here every day.”
Scores of volunteers join in to help out in the activity center and to coach youth athletics, both in the gym and outside on the softball field, the soccer fields and a T-ball field.
“There are so many kids, but students from the high school come and help us out,” Clem said. “There is something going on all the time.”
The club takes in more than 230 children every day.
The large, well-equipped and colorful facilities at the club opened in 2007. Clem said the community made a special effort to provide for their children’s after-school activities.
“A lot of people came together to make this building a reality in 2004,” he said. “The building was built by revenues from a Malvern city tax approved in 2004.”
Clem said it took three years to assemble the land and construct the building that is next to the Malvern Community Center.
Before joining the Boys and Girls Club, Clem was an assistant football coach for the Malvern High School Leopards and assistant athletic director for the school.
“I’ve played sports all my life,” Clem said. “I liked playing football and baseball, but I played whatever sport was in season.”
That Clem started early on the athletic fields was confirmed by his boyhood friend Philip Tate.
“Before we were old enough to participate in organized sports, Phil created a football and baseball league for the neighborhood kids,” Tate wrote in support of Clem’s recent Lifetime Achievement Award. “He was a good organizer.”
Clem said he even built a miniature golf course on one of the lots.
Clem’s father ran the Clem Bottling Co. on Main Street in Malvern just a few blocks from Clem’s home and his athletic “complex.”
“My grandfather started the company in 1909, and he invented 13 or 14 flavors,” he said. “There was one called RPep that was like Dr Pepper. There was another called Rock n Rye that had a punch-like flavor, and Clem Cola.”
Clem’s father took over the business and ran the local company until 1972, when he sold the company to Dr Pepper.
“My father said he would work for Dr Pepper for a couple of years, but remained with the company until 2004,” Clem said.
“The old manufacturing plant where we made the drinks was then a warehouse and distribution center.”
Rob Wilson, a retired auto dealer from Malvern, also grew up with Clem, and they played football together at Malvern High School.
“Phil was totally honest and was totally competitive,” said Wilson, who now lives in Fayetteville, in his nomination letter. “Phil was the original Tim Tebow. Nobody wanted to win as much as Phil did, but always within the rules of fair play, because Phil knew winning under any other circumstance would be an empty victory.”
Wilson said Clem was a winner because of his intense inner desire to win. That desire showed when he was the Leopards quarterback for the class of 1965.
“When he could call my number, he would look at me hard, and I knew what he meant,” Wilson said. “He meant to give it all I’ve got and then some, because he wouldn’t settle for anything less.”
After high school, Clem played football for Arkansas A&M, now the University of Arkansas at Monticello. For his senior year, he transferred to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville but did not play for the Razorbacks.
He majored in business and had a strong interest in mathematics, Clem said. He wanted to get involved in sports information but returned to Malvern and worked at the soft drink plant for two years, as he had every summer since high school.
His career and destiny changed in 1971 with a call from David Alpe, the legendary coach of the Malvern High School football team.
“The coach called, and he said an assistant coach was taking a leave of absence and asked me to fill in,” Clem said.“I was an assistant for several years, and then for three years, I was the offensive coordinator. I charted the other teams’ defenses, and after a while, Coach Alpe said why didn’t we just switch, and I was the defensive coordinator for 22 years.”
In his 28 years as a coach in Malvern, Clem was often asked when he would be head coach.
“I told folks that I would retire before Coach Alpe would,” he said. “My wife was from Magnet Cove, and I was home,and I didn’t want to move to take a head coaching job. Besides, Alpe was a good man to work with and to work for.”
In 1993, Clem was there when Malvern won the state championship with Madre Hill as the star of a talented team. Hill went on to the Razorbacks, then to the NFL.
Clem also taught business math at the high school, but he may have had his greatest impact on the community as the driver’s-education teacher for generations of teenagers.
“I taught driver’s education for 28 years and then for four more summers after I retired,” Clem said. “If a person had been here in Malvern for a while, especially if they have grown up here, I have probably worked with them. I may not remember their names, but I know faces.”
Clem’s coaching career ended with him having knee surgery in 1999.
“I had surgery and assumed I would recover completely during the summer and be ready to take the field in the fall, but the doctor saw it differently,” Clem said. “I never returned to normal, and that started me toward retirement.”
When the job at the Boys and Girls Club opened up, Clem and others thought he was the man for the job.
“I have worked with kids all my life, and helping kids makes me feel good,” he said. “I hope I’ve done a service to them because it has certainly been a blessing to me.”
Clem said that when he assessed a team’s effectiveness, either the opposition or his own team, he headed his chart with three categories: pride, execution and togetherness.
“If you have pride in yourself and your team, you will do the right thing, and you will execute the plays the right way. If everyone does that together as a team, you will all have success,” he said. “I got that from my mom and dad. She was always involved in church work and with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and my dad taught me to do things the right way.”
Today, Clem continues to teach those values to young people in his community.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
getting to know Phil Clem
Birth date: March 1, 1947 Birthplace: Malvern Occupation: Dealing with kids and people Family: Wife, Roseann; son, Chad; and daughters, Christie and Catherine Biggest influence: My parents and my wife, along with many coaches and teachers who helped me all through my life When I was young I said I wanted to be: An architect, because I loved to build things, and I liked math.
One thing I want to accomplish in life but have not done yet: I would like to make a hole-in-one; my father had two.
Favorite quote: “Do your best, and good things are going to happen to you.”