On Friday nights this past fall, Kevin Clarke was busy as the defensive coordinator for Steel Valley’s football team. The Ironmen boasted a suffocating defense that allowed just 9.3 points per game thanks to their physicality and attention to detail under Clarke and head coach Ray Braszo.
But away from the field, Clarke is trying to have a wider impact. He was recently hired as the district’s new community liaison as part of a partnership with The Pittsburgh Study. Clarke shared more about his background and his role as the district's community liaison.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What is your background? How did your path lead you to Steel Valley?
I went to high school at West Mifflin. Coach Braszo was actually my football coach my junior and senior year. From West Mifflin, I went to IUP to play football, was first team All-PSAC three times, was an All-American, set some records up there. After I graduated from IUP, I got a paraprofessional job at Homeville Elementary. Then I was an instructional aide for a kid with autism. And then COVID hit.
After we left West Mifflin for coaching, we came here. So this is my fourth year at Steel Valley, coaching-wise. This community liaison job kind of found me. My position as the community liaison means I'm basically just trying to bridge the gap between students, the community and staff and just kind of unify everybody and get everybody on the same page with academics, things going on in the community, getting people involved, and more.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to get into education in some fashion whenever you were done playing football?
Not at all. I didn’t think I’d be in the education field at all because my degree is in sports administration. I was thinking a more sports kind of route. But when Coach Braszo called me for coaching job, I just couldn't turn it down. Football has been in my life for the last 20 years, so I couldn't give it up. That kind of allowed me to stay in my field a little bit with coaching and then being in the education field just kind of makes coaching high school football a little easier.
I'm sure especially from a high school standpoint, getting a chance to work with the kids within the school is probably a benefit to helping them on the field.
Absolutely. Knowing those guys on the field and then coming into the school and seeing how they act -- when they see me, they kind of know better than to do some things. I kind of try to provide that same discipline out on the field in the school, because I feel like they go hand in hand.
This community liaison position opened up through the partnership with The Pittsburgh Study and UPMC Children’s Hospital, right?
Yes. In early August, I had training in the Expect Respect program that Mr. Dulin had. Since then I've literally been working with the same people that were in that training. It's been nice to see it all come to fruition after we talked about it in those trainings sessions.
As someone who grew up in the Mon Valley and went to West Mifflin, and who has been here at Steel Valley, what's the value of having a deep connection between community resources and getting students to be able to utilize them?
Growing up in this area, I just remembered there not being as many opportunities and resources as there is now. Being in this position as someone who came from where some of these kids are coming from, I just try to do my due diligence on truly letting them know about the opportunities and supports, really kind of pushing them and gearing them towards them and taking advantage of them. Because I know, if I had them growing up, I definitely would have taken advantage of them.
Are there examples of things that you've already established?
We started a Youth Leadership Group, Creating Peace and Expect Respect. We have a group that I'm doing called Coaching Boys Into Men. I'm also a mentor with ET3 - I have a mentee that actually goes to this school, so I've been doing some mentoring. I'm also not just here in the high school, but I also go down to Barrett. I was at Park for a little bit, but I’m mainly down at Barrett. I do some mentoring with some students down there, as well. It's been great so far.
You've got those programs started. Are there things that you're working on that maybe you can talk a little bit about that may be coming down the road?
I'm looking to get some Ironmen Country signage around the community, due to our recent success with winning the WPIAL championship and some past teams winning some championships. When people come to this area, I want them to know where they're coming to. So that's one community thing I'm working on. I've been in touch with people down at Target down at The Waterfront to get some Steel Valley gear down there. And I've been working on getting our 3Rs program into the Carnegie Library in Homestead.
I think the signs will be big. I'm trying to put together something that kind of goes hand in hand with, not necessarily a ring ceremony, but something where they reveal our rings and we reveal the signs. I also want the signs to be a collaborative thing with people in our communities. I'll bring it up at our next community meeting and get some ideas from all the people there. I really want it to be a collaborative thing, because the people in Homestead, Munhall, West Homestead, it's their community as well.
Is there anything else you want to share about your role as community liaison?
One thing I want everybody to know - teachers, students, staff, people in the community - is I'm literally here to serve everyone. My door is open. I just need people to reach out and I will get back to them in some way. I'm truly here for the people in the community, students, teachers, staff – whenever they have issues and I can help, that’s what I’m here for. People can reach out to me for pretty much anything.