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Dick “Pops” Clem, longtime volunteer assistant wrestling coach at Bob Jones High, passed away leaving a legacy that every wrestler at the school learned from and will carry the remainder of their lives. Photo- Bob Labbe

Dick “Pops” Clem Has Died- Longtime Wrestling Coach At Bob Jones Leaves A Legacy

MADISON- Pops is gone, but never forgotten.

Dick “Pops” Clem, longtime volunteer assistant coach of the Bob Jones wrestling team, passed away on May 19 from conditions associated with Alzheimer’s. He was 83.

The former multi-sport participant and sport official joined the Patriots’ program in 1998 after he retired as a social studies teacher of 34 years. He and his wife, Annette, of 59 years moved to Madison in 1993 from Baltimore to follow the treks of three grandsons who lived in the area. One former coach of the program once stated, “Pops is the voice of reason and encouragement.”

Matthew Sweatman, head coach of the program after his fifth season, said of his dear friend, “Bob Jones wouldn’t have a program if it wasn’t for Pops. He’s been very instrumental in the wrestling community.”

Pops was slowed several years ago after undergoing knee surgeries, but facing Alzheimer’s was an opponent he knew would finally win in his toughest battle of his life. In a 2013 interview, Clem spoke of his past and retirement, but was more enthused to speak about the young wrestlers within the program.

“Kids learn life factors through wrestling as on the mat you are by yourself,” stated Pops. “If an athlete can go through four or more years of high school wrestling they can face anything in their adult lives. I teach the youngsters to learn it and do it.”

Pops did not begin wrestling until he attended college at Lowson College of Maryland. He joined the wrestling program with no experience, but his spitfire attitude worked to perfection as he won three consecutive Mason-Dixon Conference championships in the 167-pound division. He went undefeated while learning the sport inside and out. He also won awards for his play on the school’s baseball and soccer teams where he graduated in 1958.

The Bob Jones wrestling team Facebook page announced the death of the beloved assistant coach as Pops passed away around 6:00 p.m. at a local living facility. Family members and friends from the Madison community will host a celebration of his life at a yet undetermined date.

Pops bridged the gap between generations of athletes, parents, teachers and coaches. He was a big part of the 2018 Class 7A State Championship team from Bob Jones and the squad was thrilled to present their coach a championship ring. He admitted he was tough on the wrestlers he coached, but they loved him for his strict coaching style. He was viewed as the “tough old grandpa.”

As viewed on Facebook, Pops was known to yell out the term “half” whenever one of the Patriots got into position to throw the most basic of wrestling moves. “He taught the kids to use the half-nelson move properly, which in turn can easily win a match,” said Sweatman.

He was such a mainstay within the program at Bob Jones, the annual Bob Jones Invitational Wrestling Tournament was renamed the Dick Clem Invitational in 2007. He was extremely proud of the event named in his honor. The 2020 tournament was completed where Pops was escorted to the event by one of his sons. He was unable to perform the annual presentation of handing out medals to the winners, but stopped just long enough to give the Bob Jones wrestlers a pep talk. The squad listened and posted a team victory in the event that will become the Dick Clem Memorial Tournament next season.

“We will miss him tremendously,” said Sweatman.

The Madison community will miss him as well. The wrestling facility located on the back of the Bob Jones campus will soon be filled with young wrestlers facing what could be the toughest personal challenges of their lives and will hear the past echo of “Half” vibrating wall to wall from the inspiration they simply called Pops.

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