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Mark Martin's Notepad

Remembering the man of Clay – Ron Sirk
August 26, 2013

Mark Martin His full name was James Ronald Sirk. Everyone, though, knew him as “Ron.”

He was the proud head football coach and athletic director for many, many years at his beloved Clay County High School.

Sadly each year from one football season to another, we lose individuals who left a lasting impression during their professional lives as both coaches and teachers.

Ron Sirk certainly qualifies.

The passing of Sirk last April at the age of 66 following a tough battle with cancer was a big blow to the Clay County community.

It’s an area that has been hit by its fair share of heartache over the course of the past couple of years. Sirk’s death left an incredible void.

“He gave me the opportunity to coach,” said Frank Kleman, who grew up near Philadelphia. Kleman was a standout football player during the Dave Ritchie era at Fairmont State. He came to Clay County in the school year of 1984-85 and has never left.

“I came here and didn’t know anybody,” said Kleman. “I wasn’t a coach that first year, but he let me come down and talk to the kids. He would ask me my opinion on some things. Our friendship grew. He got me on as a trainer and then as a coach. We were really close friends.”

One highlight of Sirk’s coaching career was being chosen to lead the South Cardinals in the annual WCHS-TV/FOX 11 North-South All-Star Football Classic. Kleman got to serve on the South staff. The Cardinals’ lost a thrilling 24-20 game to the North, who was guided by the late Mike Linsky. It remains one of the most exciting games in North-South history. In 1998, Sirk returned to the South team as an assistant and helped the Cardinals produce a victory.

“Ron could make you so mad, but he loved you,” Kleman said. “He would do anything in the world for you and defend you.”

When Sirk stepped down as head coach after the 2005 season, Kleman took over the program. A few seasons later, Sirk spent a year as his assistant.

“I coached with Ron for 26 years and never got a 15-yard penalty until his last game at Sissonville. When he helped me, he got two 15-yard penalties in one season,” Kleman said laughing.

Being someone who grew up near Philly (Boyertown), Kleman never figured he would spend his entire professional life in a rural area like Clay. Sirk was a big reason why he did. “This place just grows on you and Ron had a big impact on me staying,” Kleman said.

The same can be said for Greg Knopp.

“He was more of a father-figure (than a boss),” said Knopp, who spent several seasons as an assistant for Sirk at Clay. “I came here in 1985 (from Glenville State College) and was young and wanting to make a name for myself and move on. But after meeting Ron, he was just such a great guy so I stayed.”

Knopp chokes up and laughs all at the same time when reflecting on Sirk.

“He was funny, he was smart and he loved to argue,” Knopp said.
The former Ripley Viking football standout grew up in the unincorporated area of Frozen Camp, which is located near the county lines of Jackson and Roane.

Sirk loved giving Knopp a hard time about being from Frozen Camp. It was all in good fun.

Sirk was a successful coach and he wasn’t about to back down from any opponent or official.

“Sometimes you just had to get yourself a bag of popcorn and enjoy the show,” Knopp said laughing.

Sirk wasn’t afraid to stand his ground for those young men who donned the gold and blue of Clay County High School, where he had once played. Yet, he was well-respected.

“Everybody who knew him didn’t have a bad word to say about him,” Knopp said.

Sirk was the head coach of the Panthers for 31 seasons. He won 198 games and had eight Class AA playoff teams. He cared and loved each one of his players.

Even more, he had the same feeling for all the other students he came in contact with over time.

A good Christian man, Sirk was a Deacon at his church. Knopp noted that Sirk, “Helped people behind the scenes all the time.”

He said Sirk’s pastor at the Fairview Baptist Temple, Brett Wiley, stated: “His passing will be felt for a long time.”

My last encounter with Coach Sirk was in November at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission where opening round playoff meetings were unfolding for the 2012 playoffs.

It was a good place to see him. It is where our friendship started to grow.
Ron Sirk spent time in Vietnam before returning to Clay County.

After serving his country, he started to serve as a role model for the youth of his home county.

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. His jersey number 38 has been retired (the first in Clay High history). A decal of the number will be present on the Clay helmets this season.

It’s a great tribute to remember the man who was indeed Clay County High School football.



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