ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — About a week ago, Forest Hills Central football coach Tim Rogers approached his athletic director and told him he was working on something special for the team’s Friday night game against Northview.
He asked the athletic director to sit back and let him work on it. Clark Udell obliged.
Udell has been the athletic director for the Rangers since 2005. He was a state champion boys and girls soccer coach for them before that.
Sitting back is not what he’s used to. But soon, the idea started to come into focus when Rogers asked Udell to make sure the youngest Udell, Clay — who lives with Down syndrome — was at Wednesday’s practice. It was there that Rogers told the team and Clay that he’d be suiting up Friday night for the first time in a Rangers uniform.
That Friday, Clay’s dream came true. Dressed in green and white, he was handed the ball in an untimed play. Clay stretched the line and found the sideline, marching his way towards the end zone. Before his entire team could mob him, he took his pre-planned Tim Tebow knee to celebrate the score. And his teammates flooded the end zone.
And while the excitement on the field centered around a touchdown run, the moment was 18 years in the making, molded by Clay from the way he treats others.
“He’s always just happy. Clay’s always happy, and I think no matter what goes on in this world and no matter what happens at home or anywhere out in the community, if I mess up a play or something, Clay’s always going to be there,” said senior teammate Sam Turi. “I’m envious about how happy he always is and he’s the biggest Ranger fan out there.”
His dad agrees though he admits he’s biased. Clay’s life revolves around Ranger’s Athletics — it’s part of who he is. Not because of the competition, because of the people.
“He’s given me joy. He is probably one of the people I’m the most closest to,” Clark said. “I’ll see him in the hallway, and we just will walk down to the lunchroom, and he just kind of is able to sense that piece when I need him.”
“I love my dad,” Clay said. “I’m a daddy’s boy.”
So much so, he’s the unofficial assistant athletic director at FHC. Athletic directors across West Michigan know Clay and expect to see him at games and tournaments.
“I mean he expects to get an O-K Conference pass as the assistant athletic director,” Clark said. “He thinks I should like to retire or get fired, so he can become the athletic director.”
And Clay is all business. He’s already moved on from Friday’s touchdown and is focused on the next task: Lowell.
“This Friday, we’re playing Lowell,” Clay said. “Lowell is a big team to beat. So, every day I go on my computer and watch film.”
“He truly cares. It’s his classmates, his peers, the folks who he’s grown up with,” Clark said about his son’s commitment to others. “Whether on the volleyball court or the tennis court or the football field or the swimming pool or the hockey rink, whatever it is.”
So as about 25 of Clay’s family members watched from the sidelines, as the Northview band played the FHC fight song, and as Clay Udell marched towards the end zone, it was clear to those in the stands and on the field, this was bigger than a touchdown. This was the pinnacle of 18 years of putting others ahead of himself. This was a moment Clay earned.